15. For What It’s Worth

Trautman When I was a sophomore at Tabor, I took a class in Modern European History with George Trautman.  Many of my old friends will remember him. He was one of the finest teachers I’ve ever had.  On the first class in November, he began a lecture on the benefits and wonders of the Communist political system and philosophy.  It was the middle of the Cold War!  This was heresy of the first order! I walked my 16-year-old [highly impressionable] self home that afternoon and told my parents what had happened.  To my shock, they said nothing.  The next day George Trautman began a lecture on the benefits and wonders of the Capitalist political system and philosophy.  Again, I went home, told my story, and again my parents said nothing.  For the rest of the month George Trautman and 25 eager minds explored the truths and half-truths of every argument.  By December I was able to speak intelligently about both systems and the small smile on my father’s face is one memory I will always have.  I was never the same after that.  George, I can never thank you enough.

Several years later, I was in college in Boston.  It was a hotbed of political protest against everything from the ‘establishment’ to Civil Rights to the Viet Nam war.  There was always music that fed every aspect of every issue.  There was no shortage of rallies and the inevitable Boston PD response to those rallies.  Everyone carried a sign, everyone sang a song, and everyone cheered at the speeches that agreed with those that attended.  Later I reflected back on those years, those speeches, and the news reporting of what was going on.  George was sitting on my shoulder again.  “Think, damn you, think!” he would say.  “What did they really mean by this?  How much of that was really true and how much was barely half-true?”  There were more than a few agonizing periods before I realized that much of what I had experienced was surreal.  Yes, the issues were real. Civil Rights had to succeed.  The Viet Nam war had to end.  However, the impact of mostly drug induced children walking the streets and singing songs can’t be more underestimated.  There was extraordinary marketing at work and amazing profits were there for the taking.

And so here we are in the new century.  We still have issues.  The glory is that we will always have issues.  We will always want things to be better than they are and we will always disagree on how that can be accomplished.  Moreover, the technology has made our efforts that much easier and more prolific.  Now we have Facebook and Twitter to carry our signs for us.  Now we have YouTube to sing our songs for us.  In addition, as always, the signs, songs, and speeches will always say “Hooray for our side.”

But I still wait.  With George Trautman on my shoulder, I wait for a generation of thinkers to emerge.  Not everyone can be right on gun control, job creation, taxes, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and dozens of other issues.  However, there can be a correct answer to each question.  Every time I see a new sign on Facebook espousing the virtues of a political party, or that I don’t believe in God if I don’t forward this message, or that Smith and Wesson should protect my home, I cringe.

My message to you is simple.  There is no shortage of those who will carry someone else’s sign.  Be one of those who think.  Seek to separate the truth from the half-truth on every sign.  Seek to form your own opinion from reading and studying an issue from all sides.  Stop carrying someone else’s sign.  It only makes you look foolish.

© J T Weaver

About J T Weaver

The author of "Uphill Both Ways," a thought provoking series of stories about life, family, and growing up.
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9 Responses to 15. For What It’s Worth

  1. There are many things I don’t know, including history, politics, and the structure and workings of government. I often don’t understand people. You can call the unknowns that I possess flaws. It doesn’t bother me too much that I am flawed. When I was 18 the world as I knew it was shaken up and my perfectionist mindset was changed in going off to college summer term. Soon, I was set on my ear in knowing failure and I changed from a pre-med major to Humanities. A heartwrenching miracle. In turn, I found first love, and learning. I am grateful I was afforded two years of Liberal Arts, the antithesis of Utah, BYU, Mormon, and Happy Valley. That’s why I chose the U of U when I moved West. At Texas Lutheran, I began to learn how to “see differently” and to think more critically, giving birth to a natural born cynic. Painful and beautiful is thinking. Painful and beautiful is telling truth and sharing feelings. Necessary. Cathartic. Hats off to George Trautmann and to other brave, patient, passionate teachers. Yes. Critical thinking is necessary and foundational…..but, sadly missing in many American classrooms.

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  2. Hooray for this! Can we start with less debasement of science, and learning in the first place?

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  3. Diane Fiore says:

    “Every time I see a new sign on Facebook espousing the virtues of a political party, or that I don’t believe in God if I don’t forward this message, or that Smith and Wesson should protect my home, I cringe.” “Stop carrying someone else’s sign. It only makes you look foolish.”

    J T, I couldn’t agree with you more…thank you for putting into words what I so often think when reading social media and listening to stories on public radio. I love the sentences above…they pretty much sum it up in my opinion. I have friends who I ask if they have any thoughts of their own! It’s more than disappointing.

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    • J T Weaver says:

      Thanks Diane. While that piece was written for my children, it does have some universal appeal. I love the “keep in touch” idea of social media, but that’s about it I’m afraid.

      PS: For a real thrill try a Herreshoff Alerion 26 in a 25 kt wind. Put yourself below the flying spinnaker and experience real speed.

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  4. clcurrie57 says:

    Thank you, JT, for so concisely and clearly saying what I also think about the barrage of ‘signs’ on Facebook. I am learning from you about brevity. I write long memoir type pieces, and I struggle with saying what needs to be said in less words. You’re a fine writing model.

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